(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Today we will hear about the serious health threats to children and families from air pollution that pours into our port communities from large ships. This is a legislative hearing to review a bill that would substantially cut air pollution from these ships. We cannot afford to wait for a solution to this problem.
Large ocean going vessels – container ships, tankers, and cruise ships – are among the largest contributors to deadly diesel air pollution in our port communities. And with international trade projected to grow significantly, the problem will only get worse, unless something is done soon.
I am especially concerned about the effects of air pollution on the health of those who are most vulnerable: our children, our elderly, and people with asthma or other diseases.
I will never forget when I first saw a filter taken from an air monitor near the ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach, next to a school where children play. When the filter went in, it was pure white. Twenty-four hours later, it was totally black. That’s how much pollution a child’s lungs at that elementary school would receive in 3 and one half months.
We all know that ports are powerful economic engines for states and the nation as a whole. They spur business development and create jobs.
My own state’s Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach illustrate that point. They handle nearly 45% of the containerized cargo imported into the U.S., and they help sustain the region’s economic vitality.
But ports are also a significant source of pollution from ships, harbor equipment, and trucks and trains that move the cargo to and from the docks.
In Southern California, port activities are major contributors to smog and soot pollution that are responsible for 5,400 premature deaths, 2,400 hospitalizations, 140,000 incidences of asthma and respiratory problems, and nearly one million lost work days each year.
The diesel engines so prevalent at ports also emit toxic air pollutants that can cause cancer and other life-threatening diseases. And these harmful effects are disproportionately felt by low income families.
For example, one mother named Martha from the Alliance for Children with Asthma recalls one of many frightening visits to the emergency room when her son Jose, then only 4 years old, struggled to breathe:
"We were rushing him to the hospital by car and it is really sad to see your son almost die because he cannot breathe. His lips and all of his body turned purple. If people and the politicians knew how it feels, they would cry with the mothers of children with asthma."
"They have to miss school when they are sick and I have to miss work to be in the emergency room," she says. "It's very difficult. It has affected me in every way."
The good news is that we are beginning to see signs of progress in reducing port pollution. Citizens, state, and local officials are pushing for improvements, and some in industry like Maersk are taking voluntary action to reduce their emissions.
But much more progress is needed. Shipping is expected to double and even triple in the next two decades as the result of global trade agreements.
Oceangoing ships are subject to international standards, but these standards require virtually no control. And our own federal government has yet to step up to the task of requiring these large polluters to make significant emission reductions.
The federal government should strictly regulate these ships. Most oceangoing vessels are foreign-owned, and foreign-flagged ships emit almost 90% of the vessel pollution in the U.S.
The Bush Administration has been waiting for international negotiations to produce tighter standards for big ships. Unfortunately, those negotiations have been slow and have not yet borne fruit. This has triggered a lawsuit by environmental groups over the delays.
Because of the ongoing health threats and the slow government response, I introduced the Marine Vessel Emission Reduction Act. Senators Feinstein and Whitehouse have joined me in this effort. Our bill requires oceangoing vessels visiting U.S. ports to use cleaner fuel and cleaner engines, whether they are flagged in the U.S. or elsewhere.
Our bill would require oceangoing vessels to dramatically lower the sulfur content of the fuel they use as they travel to and from our ports. Fuel sulfur content would drop from an average level of 27,000 parts per million to 1,000 parts per million, making a huge difference for our air quality.
It would also significantly reduce emissions from both new and existing engines beginning in 2012 by requiring the use of the most advanced technologies.
Local air officials estimate that our legislation would save 700 lives a year in Southern California, and many more lives nationally each year.
We must work hard together to do everything we can to make progress on this issue.
I believe that it is our moral duty to protect the health of our children, people with asthma, and all the people of ship air pollution. We cannot afford to wait any longer. We must protect the health of families in port communities across the nation.
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